There was a time when father’s rights and custody were almost unheard of. The legal system showed favoritism toward mothers unless there was abuse involved or the mother was “unfit.” After practicing for several decades, I’ve seen decisions shift to favor co-parenting arrangements. A combination of family code revisions, cultural changes and more open-minded judges on the bench have contributed to the improvements.
I’ve been very successful at helping several good fathers who really do care about their children. Still, many dads don’t realize their rights. Here at Paula Lock Smyth Law Offices, we’re working to change that. Fathers seeking custody of their children should know a few things about their rights in the legal system.
How Fathers Should Handle Child Custody During a Divorce
Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts fathers should practice when going through a child custody case:
- Do understand that it is very unusual for a parent to receive “sole” custody, called sole managing conservatorship in Texas. Most judges will award joint managing conservatorship in most cases, but that doesn’t necessarily mean equal time. The judge will decide who gets the right to designate the primary residence of the child. That parent will also typically make other critical decisions like educational and invasive healthcare for their child. Do be aware that the primary residence of the child is normally restricted to the county in which the case is filed and surrounding (called “contiguous”) counties.
- Do get more involved in your children’s activities. Participate at school, with medical appointments, and extracurricular activities. Volunteer to coach their sports team or be “room dad.” Talk to their teachers and get their contact information to stay connected to what’s happening at school. Take the same steps with your kids for medical care. The Texas Family Code gives both parents the right to access their child’s health records.
- Do put your smartphone to good use. You need to show you’ve been active in the child’s life. Take pictures at events you’ve attended and activities you’ve done with your child. Photos make it easier to show a track record of involvement when the child is in your care. Selfies and mobile devices are convenient to accomplish this. Also, use your “notes” or “calendar” app to keep a record of your times of possession and of special or notable events that occur. You will be glad you did when your attorney asks you to give a chronology of what led up to your request for custody.
- Don’t take matters into your own hands. Never decide to just snatch your kids out of school and keep them. It may be tough to be apart from you kids but taking that route will only make matters worse. Before you involve the courts, both parties have equal parental rights. When you stand in front of the judge, the other party will use your emotionally-driven actions against you, which will hurt your case. However, if you have done something you know will be brought up, don’t keep it from your attorney. A good defense is often a good offense.
- Don’t use social media to vent about the other parent or the case. The attorneys can and will use social media evidence, and it’s just not a good idea to vent on the internet during a custody case. Use common sense and don’t post pictures of you partying it up every weekend or worse, of your new girlfriend if you are getting divorced. However, don’t delete posts if you’ve already made them because that could become a problem in discovery – just make sure you don’t add anything else that could be used against you.
- Don’t disparage the other parent or talk about the situation with the children. In other words, don’t bash the other parent to or around your kids. In fact, don’t talk about the case at all around them. Even if you think they aren’t listening, children hear everything and pay close attention to your actions and your words. You could be damaging them and your custody case.